No Guts, No Heart, No Glory follows six young Muslim girls from Bradford that want to become boxers. Despite some initial resistance and reservation from their families and the wider Islamic community, nothing is going to stop these determined and outspoken teens from donning their boxing gloves to step into the ring. Packing an emotional punch No Guts, No Heart, No Glory has been programmed as part of the Woman of the World Festival (now a staple in the Southbank Centre’s calendar). In a nutshell this work is empowering, a timely message that resonated more profusely given that I was lucky enough to watch No Guts, No Heart, No Glory on International Women’s Day.
Punch bags suspended from the ceiling frame a full-sized boxing ring, with frantic skipping and sparring aplenty, as we step inside what feels like a real-life boxing gym. A large part of No Guts, No Heart, No Glory’s charm lies in this authenticity, a thread that weaves itself through the entire work – from the talented young cast, who were plucked from schools in Bradford, to Ambreen Sadiq, the boxing coach and script consultant, everything about the piece feels honest, sincere and believable. With not a single weak link in the chain, all five sixteen-year-olds who had never performed in front of an audience before are exceptional, and they are the epitome of gutsy, heartfelt theatre.
Battling gender stereotypes and societal misconceptions that by becoming female boxers they might somehow bring shame upon their families, the cutting and observational dialogue really strikes a cord. Imagine a version of Bend It Like Beckham that delves deeper into the cultural issues raised, and you won’t be far off. The overriding message that unites all of the girls is their desire to be given the freedom to be themselves.
What strikes me about No Guts, No Heart, No Glory is the clever and creative ways in which it depicts violence and pent-up aggression, for instance in the booming sound created by all five of them beating their boxing gloves together in unison. This repetitive action is choreographed into a longer sequence of movement by choreographer Imogen Knight and movement director Kate Sadiq.
Once in a blue moon, a play excites you and reminds you that, when executed correctly by the right set of people, theatre has the power to be incredible. For me No Guts, No Heart, No Glory is that remarkable play. I only hope it continues to have a life after the festival, as its message of female empowerment and self-belief is one that should be seen and heard by girls young and old alike.
No Guts No Heart No Glory was performed at the Southbank Centre as part of the Women of The World Festival. For more information, please visit the Commonwealth Theatre website.